Almost all animals need sleep and we know that, for humans, a lack of sleep is not only extremely frustrating, but it can also be very detrimental to health.
Causes of insomnia?
If you’re suffering from insomnia, as well as wondering hoe to conquer it, you may also be wondering “Why Me? Why am I losing sleep in the first place?” Well, there are a number of reasons and you could be suffering from any one of them or a combination of them, so let’s look at the different categories of reasons for insomnia.
Emotional reasons for losing sleep
Stress is one of the most common illnesses in modern society. The very speed of modern life imposes psychological pressures that we were not really designed to cope with.
Worries seem to be magnified at night when there are fewer things to distract you and that means your brain seems to be running at top speed, keeping you awake. Ironically, if you are worrying about your insomnia itself and wondering whether you will be able to sleep, it can become a self-fulfilling problem. Your feelings of anxiety may also be due to a lack of Serotonin [link to other article] in your body, a mood hormone which is also necessary in the production of Melatonin, [link to other article] necessary for sleep.
What you should do
Don’t allow yourself night-time worrying
I know it is easier said that done, but it is important to realize that, as your body clock is trying to get you to wind down, your brain is not at its sharpest, so night time is the worst time to think about any problems you may be having.
It is all too easy to work yourself into an emotional frenzy which stimulates the production of adrenaline. This hormone is designed to prepare your body for a physical reaction to dealing with danger and, because there isn’t any, it keeps your brain in a heightened sense of alertness. That is the last thing you want if you’re trying to sleep and can make the problem seem worse than it is.
Tell yourself that problems usually seem less daunting the following morning and that a good night’s sleep and a clear brain will help in dealing with any problems far better than worrying about it all night.
However, although your conscious brain might accept that, it is very hard not to worry just from logical thought.
The main weapon to help you is a good pre-sleep routine (see below) which will help towards putting your brain in a calmer state of mind.
Create a good pre-sleep routine
The following list consists of proven strategies to help prepare to body and mind to sleep:
- Avoid high levels of artificial light in the last hour or two before bedtime. Light containing a large Blue component, such as is present in the light from computer screens is the worst culprit.
- Try to wind down in the last 2 hours and avoid over-stimulating activity, such as watching suspense or action movies, or heavy aerobic exercise. You’ll be glad to learn though that this does not include sex, as there are other hormones produced which compensate.
- Try listening to some relaxing music and/or some light reading.
- The body cools down a degree or two just before bedtime and this sends signals to the brain to start winding down, so a warm bath, shower or sauna (if you’re lucky enough to have access to one) can help contribute to a good night’s sleep because when you step out of it, your body cools.
- Try to keep to a regular time to go to bed and get up, even at weekends, if possible.
This reinforces the body’s circadian rhythm. [link to other article]
Physical reasons for losing sleep
Bad eating habits
A good balanced diet is a very important factor in good sleep patterns. Do not eat or drink too late in the evening, but eat sufficient during the day that hunger does not keep you awake. If you must eat late, have a snack including some carbohydrates (preferably avoiding sugar). This can raise the level of Tryptophan [link to other article] in the brain, which is converted to Serotonin.
Avoid caffeine in the last 4-6 hours before bed. A small glass of wine may help, but don’t overdo it as drinking too much will increase the need for bathroom visits in the night. You should also make sure, however, that you are not dehydrated.
Lack of Exercise
There is a complicated link between exercise and sleep on several levels and a good exercise regime can certainly help promote good sleep patterns.
In general terms, being fitter helps your general physical and mental well-being and sleep can benefit from that. On a more specific level, exercise can help mood and help prevent or relieve stress. It can reinforce your circadian rhythm, especially if conducted outdoors and at the right time of day.
When to Exercise
There are two schools of thought as to which is the best time to exercise but it is broadly agreed that the morning is a good time, particularly if it is outdoors in good light, as this can reduce the level of melatonin [link to other article] in the body, reinforcing your circadian rhythm.
Conversely, aerobic exercise immediately before trying to sleep is not a good time, even though you may think this would tire you out. This is because, shortly before we are due to sleep, the body’s temperature starts to drop, which elicits a sleep response, but aerobic exercise makes the body temperature rise instead. Several hours after exercise, however, body temperature does fall, so exercising about 6 hours before bedtime would be a good time to do it.
Environmental reasons for losing sleep
The invention of the electric light is a very new development in the context of human evolution. Like other diurnal animals, we have evolved to be awake and active during daylight hours and sleep in the dark when the sun goes down and both of these things are important; i.e. Your circadian rhythm [link to other article] which tells your body when to sleep is controlled by levels of light at different times of the day.
- Make sure that the room in which you sleep is dark.
- Make sure you are exposed to sufficient daylight during the day.
- A poor bed or mattress can prevent you sleeping if you are not able to be comfortable. You spend up to a third of your life in bed – it’s definitely worth getting a good one.
- Make sure your bedroom is neither too hot , probably not above (70ºF/21ºC) nor too cold.
With Jet-Lag, it’s more a case of not being able to sleep at the time you want – you may be finding it hard not to feel sleepy during the day. But at least you know that there is a good reason for it and that, given time, it should sort itself out. It’s just a case of your body clock (circadian rhythm) readjusting to the new time zone.
The key to overcoming jet-lag is really to do all of the other things recommended in this post at the right time in the new time zone so, if you’re travelling to a new time zone, set your watch to the new time and try to think and act in the new time zone as soon as possible. Don’t keep converting to the time back home.
When you arrive, try to hold out until the proper bedtime for the new zone. If you can’t, keep your sleeps to short snoozes, as you don’t want to go into a Deep sleep until the night time [Link to sleep cycles article]
Then get up at the right time and make sure you get enough daylight to reduce your melatonin and start to set your body clock to the new time zone.